Oct 182010

Granted, there’s much that needs to be explained regarding Todd Rundgren, but can anyone explain Utopia? I’ve heard the occasional good song by that band (eg, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”), songs no different from and as enjoyable as the best Rundgren songs, but was the futuristic thing necessary?

This gets to a larger question: Excluding David Bowie‘s forays into space, which actually use space scenarios as a metaphor for the songs, has the futuristic thing ever been necessary or relevant? I’m not a sci-fi guy, so help me out. Has a rock band ever moved society forward by the powers of its space-rock-continuum concept album and/or offshoot band? Jefferson Starship was launched as one of these brilliant ideas, right? I feel like I’m missing some others. Although a totally different style of music, didn’t Sun Ra play the space card? Is it that much fun to wear sci-fi uniforms and play space-age instruments?


  30 Responses to “Please Explain: Utopia”

  1. mockcarr

    I think Utopia was just a dream, you know, like all of Newhart, or most of Dallas.

  2. shawnkilroy

    Is it that much fun to wear sci-fi uniforms and play space-age instruments?


    it’s like dressing up in medieval garb, or road warrior clothes, or disco gear. it’s not about moving rock/society forward. it’s about lookin flashy, and havin fun!

    well maybe not for Todd…..

  3. Isn’t there a big sci-fi tradition in funk and hip hop as well?

    P-Funk was all about it.

    I thought the Wu Tang Clan had sci-fi roots (or was that kung fu roots?).

    Don’t the Black-eyed Peas have a bunch of sci-fi themes in their music and Look.

    And recently on Sound Opinions, I heard about a woman, whose name escapes me, who is in the midst of releasing a three disc set based on some futuristic society that (I think) had some outer space stuff woven into it.

    I don’t know much about sci-fi, hip-hop or funk but I’m sure I’ve heard other examples as well.

  4. BigSteve

    I have two words for you — Kraftwerk.

  5. BigSteve

    I think you’re thinking of Janelle Monáe.

  6. Yes, Funkadelic fits into the space-rock-continuum. They seemed to use the theme to support their music, so I’ll give them the same pass as I gave Bowie.

    shawnkilroy, thanks for confirming that understandable point of view. I never went out for Halloween as a spaceman of any sort, but I can see its appeal.

  7. BigSteve

    Has a rock band ever moved society forward by the powers of its space-rock-continuum concept album and/or offshoot band?

    Gary Numann/Tubeway Army did it. Have you noticed how everyone drives around in Cars now?

    PS. The new blockquote formatting is interesting.

  8. misterioso

    I have never had ANY IDEA what the story is with Utopia. My interest in Rundgreniana is mostly limited to his early-mid-70s records. I admit I did not know they had originally done “Love Is the Answer,” a nice enough song. I always liked their medium-sized hit “Set Me Free” which Todd doesn’t sing. But unavoidably, I find the whole look and conceptual baggage just plain stupid, and the songs are not so great, either.

    Oh and I just remembered something else: The New Cars.

  9. A Flock of Seagulls had Space Age Love Song and goofy spacey looking outfits. I am sorry to report I saw them on a double bill with The Fixx in the mid-80s (I had free tickets).

    I also saw Utopia at Northrup Auditorium in the early 80s on the Adventures in Utopia tour. Live, they came off to me as three sidemen and Rundgren, which is how the group started in the first place. It was a very good show and I remember being surprised how much I enjoyed it.

    If I had to explain Utopia, I would say that with all the music Todd cranked out during the mid-70s and early 80s, he needed another vehicle to release music in those pre-internet days and that vehicle was Utopia.

    As a somewhat related side comment, I really dig Todd’s 2004 album Liars. He’s still got something in the tank, other than the New Cars.

  10. jeangray

    Wasn’t a majority of New Wave Sci-Fi inspired?? I don’t know if’n it moved society forward or not, but one could argue that it helped to legitimize the synthesizer in the eyes of Rock fans.

  11. cherguevara

    I think Thomas Dolby invented steampunk, didn’t he? He was doing the retro-futuristic thing back in the day.

  12. pudman13

    I don’t think the space factor was really that important, at least not to Todd. It was a way to indulge his prog tendencies without having to make a series of records that would alienate fans of his own music, though as we all know he didn’t exactly succeed in that way on any count, and, also, his proggiest moment ended up on side two of INITIATION, which was under his own name. Eventually, of course, Utopia and his solo career began to merge in terms of style, and in the early 80s the Utopia records were closer to traditional pop than his own albums. Todd is one of those guys who gets bored pretty easily with whatever idea he had last year, so it’s not surprising that what Utopia was created to be ceased to exist after a while.

  13. What I get from this clip anyway is that the futurism is an attempt to bestow timelessness: “Look! Even these futuristic space aliens are telling us that love is the answer!”

  14. Dolby…is he the guy who worked with Foreigner? 😛

  15. Maybe Utopia was just a way station on Todd’s journey to fully merge with his computers and technology interests. I remember this odd project http://www.tr-i.com/

    Something more to be all impressed with than to listen to.

  16. k., that Rundgren Flash site is AMAZING! It may be Prock’s highest achievement. Thanks for passing that along. I encourage all Townspeople interested in the Prock music and the broader field of proctomusicology to check this out!

  17. ladymisskirroyale

    And then, there was Lucia Pamela…


  18. cherguevara

    I have three words for you: math class. 🙂

  19. cherguevara

    So… does most music from “the future” kind of stink? – Ok, the funk stuff is pretty cool, and Sun Ra – but if A Flock Of Seagulls were from the future, wouldn’t they have been Radiohead? If you went into the future, you’d find out the winning lottery ticket numbers and then come back and buy them. You wouldn’t come back from the future going, “hey everybody, check out this thing that totally sucks!”

  20. junkintheyard

    Mr Mod, I’ve seen enough Roxy Music youtube vids to know they were space cadets 🙂

    Also, have we forgotten “Dark Side of the Moon”? I submit that while David Gilmore never clad a space suit, it certainly falls into the realm of moving society forward, yes?

  21. 2000 Man

    I’d like to explain Utopia, but I can’t. I saw them back when I was a kid, and I remember having fun, but Just One Victory bugged me. I think anyone who ever competed in anything would hate that song. You don’t hope and pray to win, you get better and faster and TAKE your victory. Hell, I’m from Cleveland and I know that, and if any city in the world wants to win something, it’s this one. But I’m not gonna have some foo foo spacemen that never competed in anything but a marching band spectacular (where everybody wins) beg and pray to win something for me.

    I remember my friend taping the album with utopia on it for another friend once. The song, Utopia had been playing for awhile and my one friend says, “shouldn’t you check to see if the song is almost over? It’s been playing a long time.” The taper says, “No, it’s okay. That song is never almost over.” That still cracks me up, and I think it’s only seven or eight minutes long, but it sure does go on.

  22. Duh! How did I forget Roxy Music’s forays into space?

    As for Pink Floyd, they may have played “space rock” – and that’s cool – but (thankfully) they never fully committed to the space-rock continuum.

  23. cherguevara

    He’s not shy, he’s gets around…

  24. cherguevara

    he gets around. Dammit.

    Wish I could edit posts so I could fix typos.

  25. ladymisskirroyale

    In this week’s New Yorker: “The Sword’s latest release, “Warp Riders,” is a histrionic science-fiction concept album laden with old-school metallic guitar riffing. They pull it off without the slightest hint of irony.”

  26. That’s funny. That reminds me that I read something about a reissue of Weezer’s Pinkerton. That’s got a sci-fi concept behind it, right?

  27. cherguevara

    Video alert:

    Though entertaining all the way through, Todd himself appears at about the 7-minute mark. This is a report from a 1980 episode of 20/20 on the emerging trend of music videos.

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